Exciting times ahead, but perhaps we want more

Welshman John Hartson likes a good rant. When his Wimbledon team conceded a goal at Valley Parade in 2000 he ranted his way to a red card after reportedly nearly ranting his way to one in the tunnel before this game. Something in the last eleven years has convinced the good people at ITV that he should be given the microphone in support of the England vs Wales game in the week and so his rants moved into my front room.

Moving aside from the curiousness of his statements on the English having an Italian manager Hartson declared himself excited by the young Welsh team which claimed a gallant defeat at Wembley casting a critical eye on Fabio Capello’s England who had ended the game as victors, a draw off winning the group and qualifying for the European Championships.

Hartson’s excitement is justified – Wales look like they might have a team capable of undoing the wrongs committed against the country by John Toshack and getting back to the Mark Hughes side of 2004 where they nearly qualified for a major competition – but as a practical concern it misses the rather obvious point that what he is getting excited about has become tedious for the team he criticises.

No matter what one thinks of England’s performance there has become a kind of metronomic precision to the national team’s progression to World Cup’s and European Championships. Since the early 1980s England have missed three summers of what will be sixteen times of asking. While Hartson may be excited about the chance to be a part of one of those tournaments the reality of football is that England will be.

Which is because – as has been proved over the last two games, and the previous World Cup qualifying under Fabio Capello – England are good at winning games and getting results to get to the sort of tournaments which their group opposition aspire to.

Being good at getting results is not always something to get excited about but the last minute conversion of Jack Compton’s cross by Ross Hannah at Morecambe last week has pulses racing. City’s game plan seemed to have been blown away in the blustery coastal winds but Phil Parkinson’s new team showed a character to keep going and a resolve to nick a goal which turned a defeat into a good result.

Again a reality of football is that at all levels an away draw is always a good result and if a team wins home matches, draws away amassing two points a game then it will probably end up promoted. Parkinson is looking to build on that result with his first home game.

Parkinson inherited a City team which seemed to be growing in belief. The 4-2 win over Barnet showed what could happen if the young team got the ball down and passed it. In the league, since Peter Jackson left, City have a home win and an away draw.

Another former England manager – Sir Bobby Robson – said that a team needed a player who scored one in two and another who scored one in three and then it would do well. Up front James Hanson has three in six games and he may be partnered with Ross Hannah who has two in six. Mark Stewart would be unlucky to step down after some very good performances but Hannah has knocked firmly on the door. Nakhi Wells is back from international duty while Nialle Rodney is injured.

The midfield two of Richie Jones and Michael Flynn is growing in effectiveness. It is curious that Welshman Flynn – obviously a player capable enough to be in the side – was being cast aside by Jackson with no more explanation than the idea that the manager “didn’t fancy him” as if that were a reason to lose a good and useful player. Chris Mitchell will hope that his last league performance at Valley Parade has not been forgotten and Jack Compton will hope his pinpoint cross to Hannah wins him a place in the side but Kyel Reid and – especially – Jamie Devitt will be hoping to get places on the wing.

Matt Duke will keep goal behind an increasingly settled back four of Liam Moore, Luke Oliver, Guy Branston and Robbie Threlfall.

The Bantams face a Bristol Rovers team who are sitting in mid-table as they recover from relegation and are smarting from a 4-1 defeat by City’s opposition next week Crawley Town. Rovers have not won since the 16th of August and when a team is not winning then there is always a worry. As City found before Jackson’s surprise exit losing can be softened by an exciting, young team.

How long exciting losing under Jackson could have been tolerated we will never know, but perhaps John Hartson will tell us.

Comments off. Michael Wood is on holiday.

Club v country as Bradford City and England go head-to-head

Bradford City will not only go toe-to-toe with Shrewsbury Town a week on a Saturday, but the England national team. As the Bantams march out to high ho silver lining at Valley Parade, some 230 miles to the south west England will be lining up for a crucial Euro 2012 qualifier against Wales. No prizes for guessing where the attention of the country’s media will be, but what of City fans?

There are questions to be asked about why City are seemingly happy to allow a home game to take place at the same time as England are in action. But it has been suggested the club had little choice in the matter. Apparently an attempt to switch the game to Sunday was rejected by Shrewsbury because they have a match on the Tuesday; and a compromise to move kick off from 3pm to 1pm on the Saturday fell through because it would have required an overnight stay for the visitors, at City’s expense. So the club will be hoping the lost matchday revenue will be less than the hotel bill would have proved.

Equally they might feel resentful about why England are playing at 3pm on a Saturday at all. Numerous other scheduled fixtures around the country have had to be moved so fans can have the chance to watch both games, and football in this country largely operates on the rule that 3pm Saturday kick offs should never be televised because it will hurt crowds elsewhere. Why would the floating supporter go down and support their local club if there’s a match they can watch from the comfort of their own armchair?

International games might be the exception to the 3pm rule, but it would surely have caused little hardship for England and Wales to have played on Friday night rather than forcing everyone else to change their plans.

So fans are left with a choice next week. To the die-hard supporter it will be an easy one to make – club always comes before country, and Wales is hardly the most exciting of international fixtures. But other fans may find they are tempted to give City a miss – the cheapness of the season tickets means it’s hardly a disaster to not make the odd game – while pay on the day supporters may find the choice between paying £20 for a 4th division game or some pints in the pub to watch England an easy one.

Ultimately I feel sad and cheated. I hate international football normally and couldn’t give a toss about England. And that’s because I was born and lived the first five years of my life in Wales. This is the one fixture I care about seeing, and it’s one I’ve been excitedly talking to friends about and swapping banter since the draw for the Euro 2012 qualifiers was made in February 2010.

But even so, to me it’s a no-brainer what to do. Club comes before country always, and so I’ll be watching City at Valley Parade. Perhaps I’ll take a radio to listen to Wales-England too, perhaps I’ll tape the game and turn my mobile off while at Valley Parade to try and avoid the score (though it’s unlikely you can attend a large public gathering of football fans and manage not to hear someone mention the score, and that’s before we even consider the likelihood of the PA announcer letting it slip).

Still it will be a great shame all round. City lose money, the attendance and atmosphere will be worse and fans will be forced to miss one of two games they’d want to see. Perhaps I won’t be the only one hoping England get well-beaten as punishment for the FA failing to look after the lower and non-leagues yet again.

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